Friday, October 30, 2015

Ambient Light

May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young - from "Forever Young" Bob Dylan 1973

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever. - Germaine Greer

Barney's on Madison
It used to be so very easy, when something went wrong. Like my car had a flat tyre. Or I wanted to return a pair of shoes to Myer Melbourne. Or I needed the attention of the waiter.

I would just put on a sad face and would be swarmed with offers of assistance.

Playing the young-and-pretty card. I even made a game of it. How far could I go?

I remember an incident when I lived in Launching Place in Victoria, OZ. I have never been a good driver but had been  pretty accident-free. I put this down to the fact that other drivers saw me coming and got the hell out of Dodge..

But one time I did have an accident -  involving a steel traffic signal pole thing. Side-swiped it, Pedestrians were staring with shocked faces. I accelerated. I tried to pretend it hadn't happened.  Catapulted straight into denial.

The crunching noise had sounded terrible.  I think  I had made the damage  worse be not stopping or even reversing. I can still remember all these years later, the sound of metal rearing. Ripping. And the shocked faces. Christ!

When I did stop to inspect the car I was horrified. There was a huge gaping gash in the passenger door. A wound. A not-meant-to-be thing.

What was I to do?  I couldn't face my husband. I wasn't  prepared to give him evidence towards his belief that I was a hopeless driver. I knew he wouldn't care about the car. But I cared about my reputation.

So I drove to a body repair shop and pretended to cry a little bit, and asked the manager of the car place could I borrow a mallet and some cream paint the color of my car. "I want to fix it myself as I don't want my husband to know I had an accident,  Also we are poor" I said in a sad voice.

Window Display at Dylan's Candy Bar
Manager man consulted with his worker mates., They stood around in a circle in the way men of the Australian bush do when they want to show they are real men solving an important problem..

"Yeah too right we'll fix it for her, poor little thing," they were saying. "The husband's lucky to have her." I thanked them profusely and told them how wonderful they were.  My acting skills are not a lot better than my driving ones, so I cut the thanks short. Nothing worse than over-acting, my father - one of the greatest actors of all time - had taught me.

My job well-done I walked over the road to a coffee shop and read a book while the men pulled out all plugs to get my car looking as good as new.

But those days are well passed. I can't do that sort of thing now. I haven't been able to for a while.

Sometimes I wish I would have been born ugly; then I wouldn't have had to adjust so much. People would never have helped me. The transition  has been hard.

But I made it!!! I change my own tyres now. I don't even have a car anyway, so I don't have car accidents. If waiters don't take any notice of me I yell at them. I am woman, hear me roar!!!!

I don't exploit my own sexuality because I don't have any. Life is good. Was good ...

Something new has begun. I have entered another phase of ny life. An even worse one.

And that is - saying out loud my date of birth - to bank officials, Medicare workers, house insurance people, people at LifeLock who protect me from identity theft. Come to think of it, do I even NEED Lifelock? Who would WANT to pretend they were me?

It goes like this. I will be applying or asking for something by phone, from a person with the authority to deny it.  The conversation, the application will be going very well.  Especially if the person on the phone is  male and Texan. So polite. So charming.

They'll even chat a bit. "Love yer Aussie accent!" they'll say admiringly. "I am sure you can get that loan, insure that house,  return those shoes you don't like anymore."

And then, "We need to establish your identity for our records. What is your date of birth?". I can hear the mouse click at the other end where they are bringing up my personal details on the computer screen.

I answer in a whisper . Maybe they wont notice the year. But of course, they do.

The tone of the conversation changes. Clipped. Polite. Not interested in accent. No way José.

A few times I've tried to play the age card. I don' know what you mean by a "HUD-1 settlement statement," I will say. "I know you told me before but I can't remember!" But it is a fine and dangerous line I am treading here! They might think I am feeble minded. Not worthy of a loan. Not fit to take out insurance.

Actually I tried it once - playing the old card that is. At a hospital here in New York. In the ER. I was lying there, forgotten. Hours passed. I was thirsty. I had no water. When I called to the nurse I was ignored.

I started to get dressed. "What are you doing?" Nurse Ratched snapped. "I'm getting water, I'm thirsty .I  haven't had any liquid for five hours!" She glared in an accusing spooky sort of way.

"Do you know where you are?" "Of course I answered!" "Well where ARE you?" she crowed triumphantly. Trumped like The Donald! I became the old woman she thought me to be. I briefly considered saying I was in Paris having a meal with my man friend, but common sense warned me.

I didn't much like the ER I was in, but was pretty pretty pretty sure that the one at Bellevue would be worse.

So I told her where I was, in an elderly feeble docile sort of way.

Which only goes to show that the system will always win, and we must go gently into these our final days. Or at least pretend to.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Don't Blame Me - I Just Live Here!

You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read It’s well known
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones? - from "Ballad of a Tin Man" - Dylan 1965 

What's-a matter you? Hey!
Gotta no respect. Hey!
What-a you t'ink you do? Hey!
Why you look-a so sad? Hey!
It's-a not so bad.
Hey! It's-a nice-a place.
Ah, shaddap-a you face! - from "Shaddap You Face" - Joe Dolce 1980
Beach, Maine, USA
"Even as I write this on gray and rainy Saturday, the glorious weather of Independence Day weekend is borne back ceaselessly into the past like Gatsby's boats against the current.

I hope this missive finds you well wherever you are, on the docks in the West Egg or in your own backyard."

This was the preamble of a letter from my attorney - I like to call him my end-of-life attorney (it's so American) - just to annoy some of the folks back home who have it in for all things USA.

Sure the USA has a lot to answer for. But it is also - for many of us living here - a very nice place. Especially New York City, where one's end-of-life-attorney references  F. Scott Fitzgerald when sending a letter reminding you to check that your last will and testament is still in order. 

I have a theory about New York - because it is so big, and in many ways by virtue of its size - somewhat impersonal - that people are very friendly and personal with people that they come across in day-to-day encounters.

Most of us live in small apartments and spend large amounts of  time at work. On a physical level our horizons are somewhat cramped. But we make up for it, because the world is our back yard. Central Park, the High Line, Prospect Park, the galleries, the theaters. The literary and music legacies.

Subway Advertisement 2015
And so New Yorkers, seeing the whole city as their own space, will chat to complete strangers, holding whole conversations with people who they are never likely to see again.

And in customer service email - not you pro-forma "Dear Sir/Madam" -  a comment, a viewpoint can find its way into the most mundane of commercial emails.

As was the case a few weeks ago. Frustrated at not being able to find a movie that had been reviewed on "Talking Pictures on Demand" where a panel of film critics talk about the on-demand film offerings, I emailed customer service at the TV station  NY 1. In ten minutes the reply landed in my inbox.

Thanks for your email. I just checked Movies on Demand and I found it. You need to go to channel 500 (Movies) and go to the alphabetical listings. You'll find "Battle Royale" in the A-C section. I know that we have done reviews of movies in the past that might have been unavailable and we try hard to make sure that that doesn't happen.

Thanks again for the feedback and please let me know if you are having any issues finding the film. It's a weird movie....very Japanese.

Steve Paulus General Manager, NY1

As Jo Dolce sang to people putting down Australia in the 1980s - "Hey! It's-a nice-a place."

I was chatting on the phone to a friend in Australia last week, talking about the plight of refugees and how in America we call them "undocumented immigrants", and how welcoming the U.S. really is, when it comes to new arrivals. The conversation went something like this.

Me: We call them "undocumented immigrants" here.
Her: What? I think someone is at the door.
Me: Are you back? I was just saying how in America we call refugees who come here illegally, "undocumented immigrants".
Her: At least we don't have the death penalty. I couldn't live in a country that has the death penalty.

Well I suppose we all couldn't live in countries that we think do bad things. I couldn't live in a country that stoned female adulterers to death for example. Well naturally ... I would be dead.  

Maybe I wouldn't want to live in a country that turns back "boat people"; that even calls other human beings "boat people". But I have, and I no doubt will.

And in any case, it isn't a competition.

Or is it?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Aylan Kurdi - Lest We Forget

"I wished there was no problem in their country, that they hadn’t left it and hadn't tried to leave Turkey and that I hadn’t taken this photograph, But as I found them dead, all I could do was take these pictures to be their voice." - Nilufer Demir, photographer, Bodrum Turkey, September 2 2015
"But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again" - from "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", Eric Bogle 1971

The beaches of Gallipoli (Gelibolu) are etched in the collective memory of many older Australians. Every year on the 25th April Australians celebrate "Anzac Day" - the anniversary of a battle that  is believed by some to represent the birth of our nation.   In 1915 8,000 Australians died on the beaches of the Turkish peninsular of Gallipoli -  men and boys of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs),  in  their first ever campaign. The first time we made world news as a nation separate from England.

Most of us older Australians  have seen the movie "Gallipoli" -  which was also part of the marking and making of our nation. Released in 1981 by Australian director Peter Weir, it helped put the Australian film industry on the map. A film about several young men from rural Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War and who are sent to fight the Turks on the peninsula of Gallipoli. Sent to die.

Australian expats are moved almost to the tears when hearing Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda",  a song which describes war as futile and gruesome. War seen through the eyes of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli.

Was it the fact that the dead child in the photo was washed up on a Turkish beach that got to me yesterday? Beyond tears. Was it the association with the memories of the young Australian soldiers  running from the Turkish beach to their deaths one hundred years ago that sickened me so?

Or was it because of the way he was lying. As the CNN reporter put it, "face down, his head to one side with his bottom slightly up -- the way toddlers like to sleep"? My children slept like that.

Or what he was wearing, his red top and blue shorts and little shoes with Velcro straps? That I could imagine his mother dressing him in that morning? Too close, too personal.

"This picture is so desperately sad", posted a friend on Facebook. I could bear it no more. I closed the iPad, turned off the TV, and  slept the sleep of the dead.

I awoke today with that feeling you get when you know that something is wrong. In between sleep and full consciousness - usually it's something like how the dishwasher is broken; or that I lost my iPhone the day before. Something trivial, but something that tells you that today is not just another day.

I don't normally wake up with that "what's wrong" feeling related to world events. Even when George W as elected way back when, I woke up as per normal. The Chile earthquake. The bushfires. The Japanese tsunami. World events don't overly affect me. At my age I'm a seasoned traveler of  life.

Last time I woke up with a feeling of something being wrong -  a something that wasn't affecting my personal life - was on 12th September 2001. The day after 9/11.

Today I woke up with that feeling. That something-is-wrong-in the-state-of-Denmark feeling. And it wasn't  about something personal. What had changed?

As consciousness dawned I remembered. The toddler on the Turkish beach.

I know that children die every day. Of disease and starvation,  from war, by infanticide. But this one did me in. Has done me in. Little Aylan Kurdi, whose family had fled through three countries in search of safety.

Fleeing ISIS. What parents wouldn't?

As we say at the dawn service on ANZAC Day in Australia, remembering the young men who died on another Turkish beach," Lest We Forget".

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fragments - Handle With Care

"I close my eyes in the darkness that smells of mildew and bygone lives, my mind casts back, a line thrown across years and continents. Against my will - or maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore? - I remember." - from "The Nightingale", Kristin Hannah

 Today : "You have a third of your life left according to one of the sound bites describing Renata Singer's new book, "Older and Bolder: Life after 60". Thirty years, but I've already used up nearly a third of what's left! I do a little bit of arithmetic.

The Seventies - According to Bloomingdale's
A third of a third... I don't want to know. But I must read the book. And I wonder what Renata Singer sounds like - because like me - she is an Australian New Yorker.

I  google to an ABC Australia podcast, to listen to Renata Singer being interviewed. I knew here two-thirds of a life ago. She is as inspiring now as she was back then. All those years ago.

But what's with the photo gracing the podcast's webpage? A grey and white photo of drab grey and white old women, unstylishly dressed. At odds with what I expect of the book. Old women looking not bold. And very very old.

Still, I feel emboldened. And I haven't even started the book. Watch out folks!

Yesterday: On a bus. All the seats are front-facing. About three rows behind me I can hear a young woman, voice slightly raised. A clear voice. A young healthy voice. 

Dog Days on Sixtieth
I assume she is talking on her cell phone. But her voice gets louder and I turn to look behind me.

She's about 28, dark hair, attractive. Millenial-dressed. I avert my eyes and go back to staring straight ahead like all the other commuters. I can hear her clearly now. As can everyone else.

Like all New Yorkers we are doing our best to remain detached, at least outwardly.

"I can feel you thinking about me." She is almost yelling now. "I can feel your eyes. Your eyes are touching me. I hate their touch. Touching touching."

At a bus stop a woman gets on and stares. She is looking uncomfortable as she looks around at us, all of us New Yorkers, all looking straight ahead as if nothing is happening.

I feel we should do something. "Reach out," as they say. But I'm not going there.

I can hear the young woman. Yelling now.

"I feel like getting my hands around your throats," she's saying. "I want to squeeze hard around your necks and watch your heads turn yellow and green. I want to see your heads, your heads, your heads pop off!"

The sensitive woman who got on one stop earlier looks behind her, hesitates, and then gets of the bus at the next stop.

I am thinking about people in movie theaters in America getting shot. What are we meant to do when someone is clearly unhinged?  Did anyone tell us? Do I remember? I think of telling the bus driver. I'm getting nervous.

Then I remember; I'm in New York - we don't do guns here - well not on buses anyway. All those mass shootings were somewhere else. Someone else's problem. I relax. Visibly.

When the bus stops at my destination on Sixtieth, I get off. I don't even remember enough about the young woman to even look back.

Last week: You never stop being a mother. And your children never stop being your children.

In my head I am stuck at being twenty seven years old. Not unusual I have been told.

But my children? In my head they are stuck at being three. The age of questions.

And it is my duty and instinct to answer those questions. With answers that assume that my children, my eternal three year-old children, actually need me to explain, even the obvious.

Take at this little bubble of text convo for example.

What was I thinking? That my over forty year old daughter - herself a mother of a four year old - didn't know the basic workings of of the human digestive system?

Geez mum, indeed!

Stay tuned.